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Leonard: Rangers need Lundqvist to bottle up Lightning

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Henrik Lundqvist is shell-shocked after allowing six goals in each of last two games.Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Henrik Lundqvist is shell-shocked after allowing six goals in each of last two games.

TAMPA — The Rangers attended a special screening of the “Entourage” movie on Thursday night, and on Friday morning the Blueshirts’ Vincent Chase, Henrik Lundqvist, stepped forth once again as their leading man. (He’s their meal ticket, and he even has the movie-star looks, to boot.)

Lundqvist sometimes addresses the media on game day mornings; sometimes he doesn’t. On Friday, the Rangers’ franchise goaltender did step up to the microphone — after switching lockers with Cam Talbot — prior to his team’s most important game of the season to-date, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals, with all of the pressure on the Blueshirts and their King down two games to one.

“I know just being OK or close to OK is not going to be enough at this point,” said Lundqvist, who had allowed 12 total goals in consecutive losses to the Tampa Bay Lightning. “We’re playing a really good team. I’m not surprised by that. You have to be on your game, you have to be on top of things to win.

“They’ve been making it pretty tough for us and me to defend,” he added. “But I’m confident in this group, and we’re close — a couple corrections and me making that extra save will change a lot things. So I look forward to this challenge.”

RELATED: LUNDQVIST STILL OWNS UPPER HAND ON BEN BISHOP

Lundqvist sounded confident, compared to his Wednesday night postgame uncertainty, in which he second-guessed his own decision-making. After allowing Nikita Kucherov’s 27-foot wrist shot by him to end Game 3, Lundqvist said the Lightning’s furious pace and pressure made it difficult for him to choose when to challenge shooters and when to remain patient.

Lundqvist’s concern was genuine, but on Friday morning, Lightning coach Jon Cooper wasn’t buying that he wouldn’t see the A-game of a player Cooper said “has paved his way probably into the Hall of Fame at some point.”

“If he’s questioning himself, I don’t know, to me that would probably be a little bit of a ploy,” Cooper said, adding a little gamesmanship to the mix. “I don’t think he questions himself. I think he knows he’s good, and he’s probably a little taken aback that we scored a few on him.

“But I expect him to come right back, and we’re going to come right back at him,” Tampa’s coach continued. “That’s why he’s as good as he is. But we’re not going to let up. As I said, he probably won’t either.”

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Told of Cooper’s comment that Lundqvist’s second-guessing could be a “ploy,” the Rangers goaltender responded honestly: “Well, 12 goals in two games, of course you’re gonna question some things. But I have confidence in myself, the way I play, and the team, the way we play as a team. We all know we can beat this team. (It’s) small corrections and we’re right there.

“It’s a new day, a new opportunity to feel good about your game and try to get a win,” the King added.

Derick Brassard was insightful on Thursday about how to get that win. The center said the Rangers are seeking a balance between involving their defense offensively and taking unnecessary risks.

“We’re trying to score a lot of goals, and our defensemen are trying to join the rush as much as we can,” Brassard said. “They’ve been taking a lot of chances, and we just have to pick our spots. We have to be smarter. When you look at their team, their defensemen are always there in the offensive zone, forechekcing. They always have (Victor) Hedman or (Anton) Stralman joining the rush. We just have to be smarter in the way we play, especially when their top guys are on the ice.”

Better defensive structure would help Lundqvist steady himself. Lundqvist’s uncertainty, after all, is mostly a result of lackluster play in front of him, not of his own failures, save mainly the Kucherov goal.

“Personally I need to just go out there and keep focusing on the major things in my game that are gonna help me to have success,” Lundqvist said. “I want to keep it as simple as possible. The game is a fast game and there are challenging looks sometimes, but you just have to work through it, you have to battle, and you have to be there to make that extra save to help the team.

“There are things I just need to be aware of,” he added. “I talked about it after last game, try to be more consistent in my game plan. The challenge against this team is the way they move the puck, so it’s important for me to be aware of guys without the puck, backdoor plays, coming in late, just be more aware of the play.”

Coach Alain Vigenault reaffirmed his confidence in Lundqvist, saying that “a multitude of times after a sub-par performance, he comes back and just shines in the moment.” Lundqvist said “the key is not to try to feel like you have to do something special. You try to do your job.”

VIGNEAULT: LUNDQVIST IS ‘THE GUY’

When he’s at his best, he often says he’s only focused on the next shot, and nothing else. When pressed on what’s so challenging about the Lightning other than their puck-moving, the Swede noted that he’s not the only goalie who’s had trouble with Tampa.

“They have good shooters, too,” he said. “I don’t know … You probably should ask all the teams in the league. They did score the most goals this year, and they did it for a reason.”

No doubt, Lundqvist was leading the Conn Smythe conversation after two rounds. No doubt, if the Rangers go on to win the Stanley Cup, he will probably lift two trophies.

The question is whether they will get there. Lundqvist would go a long way toward answering that question Friday night.

MOBILE USER? WATCH PAT LEONARD’S LUNDQVIST ANALYSIS BEFORE GAME 4 HERE

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henrik lundqvist ,
nhl playoffs

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